“We who use words enjoy a peculiar privilege over our fellows,” says Rudyard Kipling in this rare filmed speech. “We cannot tell a lie. However much we may wish to do so, we only of educated men and women cannot tell a lie–in our working hours. The more subtly we attempt it, the more certainly do we betray some aspect of truth concerning the life of our age.”
The speech was given on July 12, 1933 at Claridge’s Hotel in London, during a luncheon of the Royal Society of Literature for visiting members of the Canadian Authors’ Association. Kipling was 67 years old at the time. The text of the speech (which you can open and read in a new window) was published in a posthumous edition of A Book of Words.
Rudyard Kipling was one of the most celebrated English writers of the late Victorian era. Henry James once said, “Kipling strikes me personally as the most complete man of genius (as distinct from fine intelligence) that I have ever known.” In 1907 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. As a prolific author of short stories, poetry, and novels, Kipling was the foremost chronicler of the British colonial experience.
But as the British Empire faded in the 20th century, so too did Kipling’s literary standing. His works for children, including The Jungle Book and Just So Stories (see below), are still widely enjoyed, but much of his other writing–even the classic novel Kim–is viewed with ambivalence. The literary genius praised by James is often overshadowed by our contemporary views on the cruelty and exploitation of colonialism.
“Mercifully,” says Kipling later in his speech to the Canadian authors, “it is not permitted to any one to foresee his or her literary election or reprobation, any more than it was permitted to our ancestors to foresee the just stature of their contemporaries…”